CNIC Statement: Operational Ban on Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant Lifted – Is the Nuclear Regulation Authority Qualified to Make this Decision?

27 December 2023

Operational Ban on Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant Lifted – Is the Nuclear Regulation Authority Qualified to Make this Decision?

In March 2021, in connection with the violation of nuclear material protection regulations discovered in 2020, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) issued an order prohibiting the transfer of specified nuclear fuel materials, effectively prohibiting the operation of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP). The NRA lifted the order at the 56th meeting of the NRA on December 27 on the grounds that Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of KKNPP, had shown improvements in their systems and would continue to work to improve them in the future[i].

TEPCO has had a very bad history with quality control at NPPs. In 2002, for example, the TEPCO incidents cover-up scandal revealed that the company had been systematically concealing problems found at NPPs since the 1980s. After that, TEPCO was supposed to have worked on internal reforms, but in 2006, cases of inspection data fabrication and falsification were discovered. After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011, it was found that TEPCO had failed, as an organization, to take action even though it knew that a higher-than-expected tsunami might one day hit the plant. In the case of the partial loss of functions of nuclear material protection equipment in 2021, TEPCO, as an organization, neglected to make improvements even though it recognized the necessity to restore nuclear material protection equipment to full functionality. In addition, it was also discovered at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant that employees were found to have wrongfully removed documents from the site, which were lost, as well as committing a large number of construction errors.

It is said that TEPCO will work to continuously improve the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant by strengthening systems, holding a greetings campaign, and establishing head office functions close by the plant as well as a monitoring room directly under the president. However, improvement measures in the wake of the 2002 scandal[ii] included the establishment of an independent audit function under the direct control of the president, the establishment of standards of corporate ethical conduct, and education and training on quality assurance. Since then, similar improvement measures have been proposed whenever disturbing incidents have occurred, but there has still been a repeated occurrence of problems. This time also, there has been absolutely no answer to the question of why TEPCO’s improvement measures are ineffective or whether the repetition of similar problems will be prevented.

The NRA has determined that TEPCO’s organizational improvement efforts have improved, even if only to a minimum extent. But, in the first place, does the NRA have the expertise to judge that improvements have been made? Looking at the members of the NRA panel, not one of them has any expertise in organization theory or quality control. The NRA has an organizational philosophy of “making independent decisions from a scientific and technical perspective, unbeholden to anyone”[iii]. However, the NRA is simply making decisions based on impressions. The NRA should refrain from affecting scientific pretentions.




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